Kate Lindsey and Paul Groves in Act III of HoffmannLes Contes d’Hoffmann
Photo: Ken Howard/Santa Fe Opera 2010
arrived for the first time at Santa Fe Opera this month and true to the company’s history, they did not shy away from a modern and sometimes thorny staging for the work’s debut. Longtime Santa Fe collaborator Christopher Alden was given the task of bringing one of the strangest operas in the standard repertory to life under the musical direction of Stephen Lord. With so much of the opera’s action taking place in memory or dreams, there is a lot of design leeway here. Alden has placed all of the action in a late 19th-century beer hall complete with a most ironic painting of rolling green German countryside at the rear of the stage completely eclipsing the mountainous high desert and rolling thunderstorms of northern New Mexico. This late Victorian set will house all of the opera’s action with long tables and chairs being ushered around to form mini-stages and other elements in the tale sequences. Most of the principal cast members are onstage throughout the entire performance becoming more or less engaged in the action as their number comes up. It’s a logical device considering that Hoffmann
’s casting largely relies in vocalists covering multiple parallel roles in each of the stories.
There is a fair bit of obtuse and sometimes symbolic stage business as when Dr. Miracle surrounds Antonia with a giant funeral wreath or the many hazy mirrors that are lifted high or gazed into by virtually everyone throughout Act II and III. The stage-within-a-stage device is used for all three of the female roles creating the effect that all three women have some of the performance and doll like qualities associated with some of the other female characters. In fact, Erin Wall, who sings all of these roles in the production, is typically dressed in a number of Victorian costumes by other members of the cast while on these stages prior to her “performances” for her audience in the opera. Alden offers a large amount of psychological material to consider in this very attractive staging that is just about as off kilter as the libretto itself. It’s a good fit. And while not everything connects, it’s never boring.
The downside to Santa Fe’s new Les Contes d’Hoffmann
is the overall quality of the vocal performances. As much as I’ve liked Wall elsewhere, she is seriously miscast as Olympia and Antonia. Her Giulietta is the strongest of the lot, but there’s little coloratura detail elsewhere. Paul Groves sings Hoffmann with an enticing angst and virility. Some of his top notes continue to strain and fade away, but not to the point where it’s unpleasant. The villains were covered by an adequately creepy Wayne Tigges who gets to repossess Olympia’s eyeballs gleefully throwing them across the stage. I was impressed with the energy and physicality of David Cangelosi as the four servants as well. But the audience came to its feet first and foremost for the marvelous Kate Lindsey. She reprised her superb performance of Nicklausse from late last year at the Metropolitan Opera with real flair and formidable acting ability. She’s immensely engaging to watch and her rich mezzo is perfectly suited to the part. I’m very much looking forward to the days when she’ll hopefully take her turn as Octavian. Vocal quibbles aside, though, this is a very worthwhile and thoughtful Les Contes d”Hoffmann
with some beautiful orchestral work under Stephen Lord. It continues in beautiful Santa Fe through August 28.
Labels: Santa Fe Opera 10